Jame Wallack wanted to be an advocate for other transgender people, and she wanted them to know they had something to live for.

"She was full of life, and she was an amazing person," said Kim Wallack, Jame's wife and partner of almost seven years.

Sam Edelman was a musician, snowboarder, taekwondo black belt, a hunting partner to his dad, and he was also "a staunch advocate for human rights and equality for all."

Wallack and Edelman both were transgender people, and both faced depression and completed suicide in Missoula last week.

Suicide rates are high in the transgender community, with at least 45 percent to 51 percent of people who are trans considering taking their own lives, according to the Gender Expansion Project in Missoula. Founder Bree Sutherland said society still needs more education to erase the stigma around being transgender.

Montana historically has ranked among the worst five states for per capita suicides in the overall population, said Kristie Scheel, suicide prevention coordinator with the Missoula City-County Health Department. However, she said once people who feel suicidal get the help they need, they most likely will never be suicidal again.

The recent deaths in Missoula have family members mourning the losses of loved ones, but also speaking out for tolerance, and they have advocates here throwing open doors to lend support and share resources with transgender people and their friends and family (see related story).

"Sam was a beautiful, kind, compassionate, exceptionally smart individual," wrote his parents, Vickie and Adam Edelman, of Bozeman. "The untenable challenges associated with being a woman living in a male body led to deep depression for Sam.

"He was supported by all who knew him at home in Bozeman and during his brief time as a student in Missoula, including the care and support he received from the professionals at the (University of Montana), fellow students, and health professionals in the community.

"Despite being loved unconditionally by all of us, the struggles became too much for Sam. Our grief is immeasurable, but we will honor Sam's spirit by living lives of tolerance and compassion."

***

Wallack loved to write, and she wanted to get a minor in paralegal studies and a major in psychology. Last summer, Wallack provided the Missoulian documents showing UM believed she had violated the conduct code; Wallack disputed the charges and alleged discrimination.

She dropped out of Missoula College to avoid expulsion, and she ended up homeless, unable to live in campus housing with her wife. Kim Wallack said Jame turned to illicit drugs to ease her suffering, and she sought help, but she didn't get all the support she needed, and she lost her fight with depression.

"I never understood everything she was going through, and it was really hard for me because Jame was relapsing and going down a huge road that eventually took her life," Kim Wallack said.

Nonetheless, Jame Wallack believed in the dream of becoming an advocate or peer counselor for other transgender people, Kim said. Just a couple of days before she died, she learned she had been accepted to the psychology program at Montana State University in Bozeman, Kim Wallack said.

"But that meant she would have to leave us, and she didn't know if she could do that," Wallack said.

Child and Family Services tried to get help for Jame, but the demands of life without a home had overwhelmed her, her wife said: "Jame was just overloaded with trying to find a job and a place to live and a car and visitation."

At her best, Jame Wallack was full of life and laughter, and she wanted to live to help others, Kim said. She loved her two children.

"She just lost a battle, and she didn't know how to fight anymore," Wallack said.

Sutherland, with the Gender Expansion Project, said Montana can be a difficult place to "come out," and she knows firsthand that "even Missoula can be very alienating." To address some of the needs, the Gender Expansion Project has been promoting resources and helping link people to services.

To lend support this week to the transgender community, and family and friends, the organization is hosting an open house from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at 127 N. Higgins Ave., Suite 202.

"As some of you may know, Missoula's transgender and gender-diverse community have experienced the loss of two beautiful people in our community over the past week," read the online invitation. "... Jame and Sam, you will never be forgotten."

Sutherland and the organization encouraged people to attend the open house, even for a hug.

"The time in the wake of losses in our community can be a difficult time for all of us. Please reach out to those close to you in this time and surround yourself with supportive people."

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Reporter for the Missoulian